The Iron Writer Challenge – 2016 Winter Solstice Open, Vladimir Nabokov Bracket

The-Isolator 1

The Iron Writer Challenge #141

2016 Winter Solstice Open Preliminary Round

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements


Vladimir Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov Bracket

The Authors:

A. Francis Raymond, Tina Biscuit, Ericka KahlerDanielle Lee Zwissler

The Elements:

The Isolator

Something arrogate.

A ball of yarn

An appointment to be abducted by aliens that you are anxiously waiting for.

Now ServingA Francis Raymond

A. Francis Raymond


Martha looked up over her the rim of her glasses and sighed. She was number 48. 

The disturbance caused her to lose the rhythm of her needles and when she looked back down, the ball of purple yarn she’d been pulling from fell off her lap and rolled to the other side of the waiting room.

The ball stopped at the feet of an older gentleman who Martha noticed had been sitting here since before she came in.

“Please show up at least 15 minutes before appointment time,” the note had said.

The man picked it up and brought it over and took the empty seat next to her.

“Thank you,” she said and continued her knitting.

“Name is Harvey.”

“Martha.” This time, she didn’t lose her rhythm.

“They like to keep us waiting, don’t they?”

“Well, anyone who arrogates themselves any medical facility, let alone the most important one, is going to do that.” Martha figured she’d use her college learning on him. He could either keep up, or head back to his side of the room.

He simply chuckled. “Why are you here?”

Martha stopped her knitting and really looked at Harvey. At first, she assumed he was old enough to be her father until she regarded her own wrinkled hands and remembered that she, too, was really gosh darn old.

And they both knew damn well why they were there.  They’d won the appointment lottery to see the Overlords who would be able to do something about their impending death. Anyone over the age of 80 was allowed to apply. Rumor had it that less than one percent of one percent of those who did made it this far.

No one could confirm what happened next. Everyone believed that the Overlords stole them away to their own planet. Abduction in exchange for a new life. Most anyone 80 thought it was worth the chance.

“It wasn’t my plan,” Martha said. “My late husband left me a letter.” She didn’t want to elaborate any further.

Harvey smiled reassuringly. “I guess he passed before 80?”

Martha was a little uncomfortable. She loved her husband, but didn’t enjoy talking about his death. She couldn’t forgive the suicide.

“Yes,” she said, not wanting to seem rude. “He was a writer. But he could never get the voices out of his head. The Isolator is what finally did him in. He didn’t hook it up right and it killed him.” She left out the part with the note and that it was quite intentional.

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

“What about you?” Martha figured she’d try to turn the attention off her.

“Me? Well, I want to do it all over again. You see…”

“48! Number 48!”

“Oh… well, I guess it’s my turn.” Martha gathered up her knitting utensils, stuffed in into a bag and turned to Harvey holding out her hand. “It was very nice to meet you.”

Harvey smiled again. “See you on the other side!”

Rattling China

Tina Biscuit 

Dorothy clenched her fist, tapped lightly on the door, and pushed it open. The skylight shed dusty rays into the attic study.

‘Another visitor, Hugo’, she ushered the scrawny man into the dank room.

In the dim light, he could make out two figures at the desk, one with an unwieldy, felt helmet masking his features; the other, his host, walked over to greet him, carefully picking his way across the room – piled high with electrical contraptions.

‘Nikola, so nice to see you.’ Their hands touched, their minds met.

‘Some tea please, Dorothy.’

‘For three.’

‘No, four, we are four today.’

The door closed behind her; Hugo sat down.

‘Who else is coming?’ asked Nikola Tesla.

‘You’ll see him soon enough.’

‘And who, or what, is that?’

‘It’s your old friend – Edison. He can’t hear you; he’s wearing my “isolator”. Needed to relax, poor fellow.’

‘Well, I hope you’ve got the patent for the “isolator”. He’ll arrogate it to himself – he did with most of my stuff.’

Hugo switched off the oxygen, and removed the helmet. Edison blinked, facing his old adversary. 

The rattle of porcelain broke their stares as Dorothy placed the tea tray between them. She turned towards the door, reaching for some switches, ‘Do you need some more light, Hugo?’

‘Not that one’, cried Hugo. She flicked the switch, a metal teaspoon flew across the room, followed by a pen, a pair of glasses, and finally, the metal tip of an umbrella turned and was sucked under the desk – sticking to the electro-magnet, its black material following like a wet bat. Tesla nodded in reverence to the induction coil. She switched it off, and tried the other switch; an orange glow filled the room as the incandescent bulb heated.

‘Before you say it, Thomas: No, you didn’t’, Tesla quipped.

‘The patent says I did’, Edison smiled.

‘You changed the lightbulb, Thomas, but didn’t invent it’, Tesla smiled wider. 

Hugo picked up the spectacles.


Herbert Wells emerged from his invisibility cape.

‘I thought “the invisible man” was a story’, Tesla muttered.

‘They start as stories,’ said Herbert, replacing his glasses, ‘I thought that’s why we came here – to create stories for WRNY.’

‘I brought you here’, interrupted Edison, ‘I have a problem. I have an appointment to be abducted by aliens today.’ He held out a small card, ‘I need help.’

‘No kidding’, grinned Tesla, looking at the appointment card, ‘3.30pm, we’ve only got five minutes.’

‘My time-machine isn’t ready yet’, added Herbert, somewhat ironically.

‘I think I have a solution’, Tesla proclaimed, raising a hand.

‘If you don’t mind, Hugo’, he tugged the rug from under Hugo’s feet, ‘and that ball of yarn, please.’

Hugo handed it over.

‘Lie down, Edison’, barked Herbert.

They rolled him on the floor and bound him tightly with the yarn.

They lifted him over their shoulders; he cried out: ‘What about the aliens?’

Nikola Tesla patted his chest: ‘Europe.’

HG Wells tipped his hat: ‘England.’

Hugo Gernsback put on his ‘isolator’: ‘Luxemburg.’ 

The three aliens walked out into the streets of New York, silently composing a new story for the launch of WRNY. 

On the Lam

Ericka Kahler

The proximity alarm inside my IsolatorTM helmet beeped.
“Crap. There’s a ship in this solar system,” I muttered. I twisted the display dial disguised as part of an oxygen tank. Gernsback, he did good work. He kitted out an IsolatorTM to hide my advanced tech from the locals before he left.  He never mentioned my little monitoring system to anyone, or if he did they thought it was something out of that sci-fi magazine of his. Either way I was golden.
Until now.
I fiddled with the dial to adjust the picture. Might be nothing, some yacht flying by, or it might be the “fuzz.” Earth idiom – so cute. But it wouldn’t seem cute if I got caught hiding out on a primitive world. There were laws against that sort of thing. The display snapped into clarity.
Damn, the fuzz. A whole fleet of ships, enough to mount a freaking invasion, hiding behind Jupiter. They sent an entire fleet after me because I copied a few classified files? OK, it was a brilliant hack. Must have been something more important in them than I thought.
So I had to get off this planet.
I lifted the bulbous IsolatorTM hood off and tucked it under my arm. Gernsback should be close enough to come get me before the fuzz got here. Coords, coords, how do I…
“Finished working?” Lorna sat knitting by the window with my poodle Fluffy laying across her feet.
“Just taking a break.”
“I’d need a break from that thing, too. Want some tea?”
Lorna put her knitting in a basket and got up. I tapped my fingers on the IsolatorTM’s hood. How to calculate the vector to send Gernsback a message? My eyes rested on Lorna’s knitting basket. I blinked, then grabbed the IsolatorTM and a ball of yarn and headed outdoors.
In the yard I put the IsolatorTM back on and called up an image of the night sky. I superimposed it over my goggle openings and knotted the yarn to match each star. A few calculations, then I lay down over my star map to angle the IsolatorTM. I flipped on my recorder by tapping the oxygen (not really) tank.
“Gernsback. I need a ride. There’s a fleet here to arrest me.” I tapped to send it and hoped he was awake.
The IsolatorTM beeped. “You arrogate your own worth. They did not send a fleet just to arrest you.
“No, look.” I attached the visual and sent it.
When his image appeared again, he looked scared. “I’ll be there right away. That’s not the fuzz, that’s a Corbian invasion fleet.”
Slavers, massing less than a solar system away. There wouldn’t be anyone left on Earth by the time they got through with it. I stood up, keeping the IsolatorTM on in case Gernsback messaged me again. I could barely see through the goggles, but I had to get Fluffy before he got here. I hoped Gernsback’d be willing to bring my dog.

The Force AwakensDanielle Lee Zwissler

Danielle Lee Zwissler

“Georgie, you need to pick up your toys! They’re all over the place!” George’s mom yelled.

“They’re not toys, Mom! They’re models.”

“For what? I swear, Georgie, you’re 34 years old!”

“It’s for a film, Ma.”

“Sure, sure.”

Two Hours Later

“Oh my word, what are you wearing?” George’s mother asked him as she walked into his room. She was carrying a big ball of yarn and a pair of knitting needles. George was sitting at his desk, fingers poised over the typewriter keys. He was wearing some odd looking contraption over his face which had some sort of corrugated pipe to God knows where.

George didn’t say anything.

“Georgie!” his mom yelled once again.


She knocked on the side of his helmet.

George turned, took the helmet off, and there was a slow expunged sound of air. “What in the world was that?” his mom asked.

“Oh, it’s called the isolator. It helps writers, Ma; it’s soundproof.”
“The things they come up with these days. Are you hungry?”

George shook his head. He had a huge smile on his face. “Na, can’t stop now. I have a meeting with an alien, I’m about to be abducted.”

“Come again?” His mom looked worried as usual.

“My story. It’s so good, Ma. I think this one’ll be a hit.”
“I’m sure it will, honey.”

“Well,” George said as he picked up his helmet, “have fun with your knitting.”
“And good luck with the abduction, Georgie.”

“Thanks, Ma.”

“May the force be with you,” his mom said, and she went to the door.

George’s eyes widened, he put his helmet back on, and his fingers flew away at the keys. “Ma, you’re a genius!”

In a Galaxy, far far away, there was a man. He was something arrogate, and he had an appointment with a crew of a new ship, an alien that his crewmate, Han Solo, called a wookie.

Hmm, what’s a wookie? George typed. “A wookie is a big hairy creature—tall, carries a blaster, and this particular one’s name is Chewbacca.”

George scribbled down a few notes, then got back to his outline. He looked up to the ceiling and grinned. “May the force be with you! That’s gold!”

George took a deep breath, really into his story now, and could hear the sound of his breathing. Kkkk shhhh kkkk shhhh. His eyes widened once more. George typed: Darth Vadar- Dark Lord, Sith, darkside, evil, wears a helmet like the isolator, has a funny breathing sound to it, menacing…. Luke Skywalker’s dad! “Holy crap, people will eat that up!”

George smiled at his words, and then looked to the right of his desk where his drawings and models were. He’d made a few of ships—one that wasn’t a particularly difficult design. It was a basic model in the shape of an x. “Think like an 11-year-old girl,” George said to himself with a grin. “I think I’ve accomplished that.” George looked down at his drawing of the girl with the buns in her hair and smiled. Perfect. Every little girl likes a princess.

#TIWC member, please vote here.

The Iron Writer Challenge #131

The Iron Writer Challenge #131

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Authors:

Dwight Wade, Alis Van Doorn, Maureen LarterEricka Kahler

The Elements:


Genre: Sci-Fi

A princess
A dragon
A ninja
A Bumblebee

The Last Avatars

Ericka Kahler

The last avatars gathered in PRINCESS’s digital garden. PRINCESS wore her full royal regalia. St3lthn1nja hadn’t bothered changing his appearance while DragonKin added a yellow sash across his body. Among the flowers the Bumblebee nudged a daffodil.

“When does the server shut down?” DragonKin snapped the daffodil’s stem with his claws, lifting the flower slowly with Bumblebee still hovering over it.

“Three minutes.” St3lthn1nja held out a finger to the flower. The Bumblebee flew away, flitting from one orchid to the next. PRINCESS followed it. Her chat window appeared in the air next to her. <RU sure we can’t do something?>

“All of us are out of money. No subscribers, no crowdsourcing…we tried everything.”

“I lost my house,” DragonKin muttered.

PRINCESS turned her back to watch her garden. A gentle breeze rippled the flowers. <Another server?>

“He didn’t work.” DragonKin’s tail pulled up the orchid where Bumblebee landed and gently brought it up. “I don’t know why. Maybe I didn’t really create an AI. The judge didn’t think so.”

St3lthn1nja cupped his gloved hands around the orchid. “Your brain doesn’t work outside your own head. It’s not the programming.”

“Maybe. But we can’t afford to maintain the entire game environment. And he doesn’t work with anything less.”

<1 min> PRINCESS took off her crown. She glanced at her garden before gathering with the other avatars around the Bumblebee. 

DragonKin laughed. “A bee. You had to have a bee.”

<Real gardens need bees.>

The Bumblebee crawled off the orchid’s petals and crossed St3lthn1nja’s palm. “Now the bee is real but the garden isn’t.”

DragonKin laid a claw next to the Bumblebee.  He smiled at PRINCESS. “It was real to him.”

PRINCESS smiled back. <He made it real.>

Night-time StoryMaureen Larter

Maureen Larter

As the sun slid over the horizon on the planet Hive, Buzz Bumblebee shepherded his two young offspring into their cells.

“Please read us a story, Dad,” his daughter begged.

Buzz sighed.

“You need your sleep, young’uns,” he said. “Tomorrow is a big day in the colony, you know. We are going to the launch ceremony for the Ninja space craft that will be exploring the Widerfields that the last lot of Drones discovered.”

“I know, Dad, but that’s so boring. Please read the one about the Princess and the Dragon.”  Hummer nudged her younger sister and crossed her feet behind her back.

Buzz frowned.

“We are going to the Launch tomorrow, whatever you say! I’ve worked on the Ninja project for nearly 5 months and we need to know what is out there. Maybe we will find more beeings like ourselves. Who knows?”

Both Hummer and Flower grumbled.

Hummer pouted. “There’s no other life on the outside of our world, Dad, it’s all only hope and theory – you know they need to find a place with more water and nectar for our type to exist, and I don’t think they ever will – after all we can’t travel overly far or for very long into the unknown and survive ourselves!”

Buzz raised his antenna, bobbed his head and gave in to the girls demands. He grabbed the storybook from the shelf and sat on the edge of the bed. He stroked Hummer on her head, wiping away a fragment of pollen that she hadn’t cleaned off.

“Stop with the negativity, Hummer.”

Then he turned to Flower, so pretty that he smiled and opened the book on his knee.

” Lay down Flower. Now…”

The girls wriggled into their comfort of their beds and looked at their father with wide and excited eyes, He began to read.

“Once upon a time the Dragon Wasp flew around the Castle. Princess Properlis was extremely frightened. She called upon her warrior band and….”

Buzz stopped and glanced at his children – they were already fast asleep!

Far From HomeDwight Wade

Dwight Wade

A pile of rubble stood at the cave mouth. On top of the pile sat a small radio. A red indicator light flashed off and on.

“Dragon. This is Princess. Dragon, come in Dragon.”

A few feet away, back to the pile was a figure, clad in a dark red space suit, hunched over a console. Inside the suit, a young man struggled to catch his breath. Warm sweat ran down is forehead and into his eyes. Unable to wipe it away he muttered under his breath.

“Apparently no one at NASA thought cooling systems were important.”

He returned his thoughts to the task at hand, looking down at the console labeled: NINJA Mining Systems. Every day he drilled until his oxygen ran out. Then he slept and came back to drill some more. He’d yet to find anything. No water. No minerals. No nothing.

The eggheads back home estimated three to five weeks to hit their quota. Water and minerals were necessary for the continued survival of Mars colony. This asteroid was the best bet for finding them.

They’d been here for five weeks now. Each day he became more convinced the surveys were wrong. There was nothing here. Nothing but a spaceship, four miners and a whole lot of rock.

Sweat continued to pour into his eyes and Dragon reflexively reached up to wipe his brow. He cursed under his breath again and tried to blink his eyes clear. He could barely see the console display at this point. He realized it was time to call it a day. He reached out and pressed the probe return toggle. He had to squint to make out the fuzzy letters that flashed on his display.


Dragon swung around to peer out of the cave mouth. As he turned his head he noticed the blinking light on his backup radio.

“Ah crap” he muttered. He reached out for the radio cable, plugging it into his helmet.

“…incess. Come in Dragon.”

“Hey Princess”, he replied. “Dragon here. Helmet radio is apparently out. Couldn’t see the backup. My bad.”

“Oh thank God”, her voice was laced with anxiety. “Did you find anything?”

“Negative Princess. Just called the Bumblebee back. Whole lot of nada. Again.”

“Damn. That’s not…” Her voice trailed away.

“Princess? What’s up? You don’t sound too hot.”

She didn’t respond for a long time. When she finally spoke up her voice was whisper quiet and shattered.

“They’re gone Dragon.”

“Who’s gone?”

“Arthur. Gwen. They’re gone. Working in the engine compartment. Something broke. Exploded. They’re gone.”

“Exploded?” His heart sank.

“We’re stranded. Eight weeks ETA for rescue pick up.”

Dragon’s mind raced. “How much food do we have?”

“For two people? 10 weeks. That’s not the problem though.”

“Yeah, I figured.”

“Five weeks of water.” Her voice was barely audible.

Dragon picked up the radio, turned and set it on the console.

“Well, I guess I’d better find some then.”

He blinked the salt from his eyes, reached out and reset the probe control.

How Bumble Saved his Bum without Losing His HumAlis Van Doorn

Alis Van Doorn

In a land far away, a galaxy away, in fact, lived a mighty and testy ruler, whom if not always even tempered or wise, was certainly a hardworking, powerful king. But his kingdom was under attack, and King Bumble was not in the best of places, temperament wise.

“Zziiilenzzze!” screamed King Bumble to his assembled subjects, drones, Upper Staff and the uniformly hated wasp ninja’s.


King Bumble quivered, buzzed with indignation.

King B’s mind flashed back a few hours ago, where in his royal beehive chambers, feeling overwhelmed, miserable from the news, Euphimpia, his beloved wife, had waspishly asked “What’s wrong with you?”

Bumble was inclined to cut her some slack; she was in fact, a wasp, but this lack of wifely, let alone motherly concern, was a bit much.

“Uh…in case you haven’t noticed, our daughter’s been kidnapped, our kingdom, our honey banks demanded as ransom.”

Bumble peered somewhat distractedly in the three way mirror. “Do you think I’m losing any velvet on my nether regions, Empi? Because it seems if my stripes are a bit looser down there. It could be this mirror though, do you think, dearest?”

Queen Euphimpia took a deep breath, held it, then satisfied her stays were secure, let it out. “Really Bumble? That’s what you’re worried about?”

“No of course not, Empi; I was just wondering. I mean after all, I’m to face the council, Kingdom of Bees; I do want look my best.” Bumble sniffed, a wounded look of dignity on his yellow soft velvet face.

Empi fluttered a bit; she could never resist that look of charming insecurity on Bumble’s face. It always melted her; why she’d married a bee, when in the history of the galaxy, a wasp had never married a bee. But they prevailed, had a beautiful, gentle daughter, Humble. And it was she, thought Empi grimly, that got us into this. Her face softened looking at Bumble.

“I’ve 10,000 Ninja drones prepared, battle ready, if you choose, love. But really, would it be so terrible?

Bumble stiffened, outraged. “What! You’d countenance a thing? Marriage between our beautiful girl and that, that…?”

Empi fluttered a wing, flitted to the mirror. “Look Bumble, at us. Everyone thought we were an outrage, unnatural. But we knew.”

Bumble’s wings trembled a bit; he was confused, angry because of it.

Empi smiled, sent a tiny drone off with the barest of nods, imperceptible to her mate.

“Zziiilenzzze! Zziiilenzzze in my chambers! As you know, my daughter, the fairest of all, Princess Humble, has been…

RETURNED!” roared King Bumble in relief as the massive doors opened, Princess Humble hesitantly flitting towards him, her handsome tiny Dragon Prince in tow.

“The wedding shall take place immediately, uniting Planet Bumble with Tiny Dragons Planet!”

As a huge buzzing filled the giant hall, Humble caught her mother’s eye, and the briefest of wing flutters acknowledged the power of a mothers love, a daughter’s gentle but determined will and the promise of a dynasty that would rule the galaxy.

TIWC members, please vote here.

Challenge 82

The Iron Writer Challenge 82

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Authors:

Ericka Kahler

Don Corcoran

A Francis Raymond

Geoff Gore

The Elements:

Arnold Action figure

A Arnold Schwarzenegger Commando Action Figure

A New Circle of Hell (meaning you have to make it up and give it a title)

The Dunning Kruger Effect 

Perfume Atomizer

Remember to vote.

The Poll is below the stories.


First Day

Ericka Kahler

“This is your first day?”


“Welcome to City Government. We call it the Tenth Circle of Hell. This is where the Peter Principle married the Dunning-Kruger effect.”

“Excuse me?”

“Everyone here has been promoted to his or her level of incompetence, but they all believe they are much better at their jobs than they really are. Have a great time working for the City. Here’s your desk.”


“You need to take that off your desk.”

“Excuse me?”

“The toy, that…”

“My Major Dutch Schaefffer action figure?”

“Looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

“It is. It’s from the movie Commando. My dad gave it to me when I was a kid and I like to keep it around for luck. I’m sorry, I saw other people had knick-knacks on their desk, so I thought…”

“Oh, there’s no City rule against it. But you work with the public and I don’t think that, that, whatever it is projects a very professional image. You have to take it off your desk right now.”

“Um, OK?”

“From now on, you are not allowed to have any personal items on your desk except a framed family photo. One framed photo.”

“Is that the rule for everyone?”

“No, just you.”

“Are you my supervisor?”



“Ex, ex, excuse me. I think I’m allergic to your perfume.”

“Oh. Sorry. I’ll move the atomizer over here to my shelf. Is that better?”

“No, not, really. It’s in the air from all the spraying…”

“Great! I’ll just keep it over here from now on. This is my favorite perfume. I just love it. Don’t you think it smells great?”


“We do it that way because we have to. It’s the law.”

“Then you wrote the law wrong.”


“Can you transfer me to the Governor’s Office?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t. This is the City Government, not the State Government.”

“But it’s just down the hall from you. I don’t see why you can’t transfer me.”

“They are in a whole different building. I can’t transfer you because they are a different organization.”

“I bet you could transfer me if I didn’t have an accent.”

“No, I really couldn’t.”


“Hello, Walmart? I’d like to know where I can get an application. My current position doesn’t seem to be working out.”

The Devil is in the DetailGeoff Gore

Geoff Gore

Satine struggled to focus in the confines of the bare room. Her wrists ached. She went to rub them, realizing they were clamped to the clinical steel table she was seated at.

So this is how it would play out? She thought, surveying the cell. Her own private circle of hell, Illusory Superiority. Yet, she’d known this day would come eventually.

Earlier she’d addressed the Royal Society, outlining her breakthroughs in pharmaceutical oncology. The vaccine she’d created – poised to consign cancer to history’s catalogue of defeated diseases, and she – poised to become richer than her wildest dreams.

Of course he would choose now to return for payment.

Her address was dazzling. She’d received a standing ovation. A precursor, undoubtedly, to accepting the Nobel Prize. But it was just words. She couldn’t help herself. The attention was like a drug and she yearned for more. So she continued. But the words felt hollow, falling from her lips and landing flapping at her feet where they lay dying between her and her audience. Because she didn’t really understand anything she was saying.

The wise speak when they have something to say. The foolish speak when they have to say something.

She had been so very foolish. She hated chemistry. That’s why she’d made the deal in the first place. But as she advanced, so too did her resentment of it.

Professor Deville entered the cell from the sole doorway. He looked like one of those action figures from ‘Commando’ her brother had once forced her to play with endlessly. Another torture dredged from her past. Of course he’d present to her this way.

“We had a deal Satine?”

“Go to hell”, she spat.

“My dear, I created it. Now, about what you owe me?”

Satine thought desperately. “You’ve had it already.”


“You took it from me when we met, and it’s eaten away what’s left ever since.”

“Don’t trick me with ethical technicalities. I‘ve spent an eternity debating technicalities with Him.” He rolled his eyes toward the ceiling. “Among lawyers, I’m considered a patron saint. Our contract is binding.”

He leaned over her, stroking her hair. His icy fingers burned.

“There was a little girl,

Who had a little curl,

Right in the middle of her forehead,

When she was good, she was very very good,

But when she was bad, she was horrid.”

Satine had been horrid. But, there was something familiar in how he spoke about law, like her own chemistry. Realization. He’s said too much. He’s bluffing.

“Okay”, she relented, “But first, unclamp my wrists so I can freshen up, just a little.”

DeVille hesitated, but agreed. He unclamped her, and she reached into her pocket, drawing out a small perfume atomizer. She waited.

“What now?” DeVille demanded, leaning in.

She sprayed the bottle directly into his face.

He shrieked, staggering backward, hands grasping at his face.

She watched as the mixture of holy water and garlic burned. Perhaps she knew something about chemistry after all?

Perfume with a PunchA Francis Raymond

A. Francis Raymond

“Wow. You’re on time for once.”

Twenty-nine year-old Arnold Berk ignored his co-worker Molly and took his station where the department store opened into the mall. The 10th circle of hell, as he referred to it, was working here. Arnold couldn’t wait till Molly returned to college at the end of winter break. Idiots like her needed that kind formal education. Not like me, Arnold thought.

Arnold pulled a perfume atomizer from his coat pocket. It was the one he managed to slip out the afternoon before.

“Maybe you’ll actually sell some perfume today,” Molly pestered him.

“Oh, I will,” replied Arnold. This was the day. Arnold wanted this shift. He finagled to get it. Some very important vendors were taking a tour of the department store today. All he needed was for them to take one whiff of his special fragrance, they’d recognize his genius, and remove him from this place that represented the essence of hell.

As people walked past, Arnold said: “Try some Magic Spice?” He sprayed, regardless of their interest.

Molly stood opposite Arnold. To her left was the toy store.  A display of Arnold Schwarzenegger action figures from the new movie “Commando” was positioned at the storefront again. Arnold, ever fascinated by anyone bearing his name, developed a relationship with the action figures over the last two weeks.

Action Figure Arnold said “Do you have your concoction?”

Arnold thought back “Yes. It’s awesome. Those execs will love it and recognize my natural genius for this stuff. I’ll be out of here by the end of the day and I’ll take you with me!

Arnold was certain that Action Figure Arnold winked at him.

The “concoction” that the Arnolds’ referred to was a mixture of household chemicals and essential oils Arnold’s mother stashed around the house. He’d created a batch in his mom’s basement where he slept. It smelled like lemon with hints of clove.

An hour passed by. Then two. Arnold started to get anxious. He calmed himself by whispering to Action Figure Arnold. “Soon, soon.”

“What’s that?” said Molly.

“Nothing. I wasn’t talking to you. Hey, you missed someone,” Arnold scolded.

She rolled her eyes and said in a tone barely audible “Fine. I’ll just stop talking to you altogether.”  Then louder to a woman who walked by “Try some Obsession?”

The next hour ticked by with no executive sightings. Arnold kept spraying people. His fragrance was running low. He stopped watching the people walk by so he could examine the fluid level in the atomizer.

“That’s the head of Vishny Corporation,” exclaimed Molly in a loud whisper.

Arnold was startled. He didn’t realize the next man to walk into the store was not his intended target. He sprayed.

“My eye! You jackass!” yelled the burly man. Arnold’s unintentional target swung a right hook and knocked Arnold out cold.

*    *    *    *

Arnold saw the fluorescent lights. His face throbbed. He focused and saw Molly and two other employees standing over him.

“Have I escaped this Hell?”

“The mall?” Molly chuckled. “No. You’re still here.”